The History of Christian Healing

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The History of Christian Healing

The History of Christian Healing

After Jesus' resurrection, the church continued Jesus' healing ministry. They did so by bringing the love of Jesus to the sick as Jesus taught them to.
At Pentecost they received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. They were empowered as Jesus was to continue doing what Jesus did. Their minds are enlightened (Jn 14:26); they received guidance (Jn 16:13); they had Jesus’ love, joy and peace within (Jn 14:27, 15:9, 11)
We read in Acts 3: 1-16 how Peter and John brought Jesus’ love to the temple. A paralyzed man asked for money, but Peter gave something more. He said, "What I have I give you. In the Name of Jesus Christ, walk." He brought the personality of Jesus to a man who did not ask for it. When the man experienced the love of Jesus through them, he was healed. When Peter had to defend this healing encounter, he said that faith brought healing to the man. The question is, “Whose faith?” It was Peter and John’s faith relationship with Jesus that allowed this man to experience Jesus’ love in that place. They bring the love of Jesus in their hearts. They had done this before as described in Mk 6:12-13 where it says that the apostles preached the need for repentance, expelled many demons, anointed the sick with oil and worked many cures.

There is evidence in the New Testament that the followers of Jesus continued his ministry of healing. We read of this in James 5:13-16. It says the community representatives would pray for the sick in the Name of Jesus, that is, in the personality of Jesus. This prayer, “made in faith” would save the sick persons and forgive their sins. Again the question is, “Whose faith?” It was the faith relationship of the people praying that caused the sick person to experience divine healing love. It was the ministry of loving people offering the same love that Jesus had for them (Jn 15:9-12). This was a normal part of early church life and it is the origin of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick which is one part of Christian healing ministry.

Other scriptural recordings of healing are Acts 5:15 Peter’s shadow heals; Acts 9:32-35 Peter heals Aeneas; Acts 9:36-42 Peter raises Dorcas; Acts14:8-10 Paul heals a cripple; Acts 19:11-12 Paul’s clothes heal the sick; Acts 20:7-12 Paul raises Eutychus.
In 1 Cor 12:7-11 St Paul refers to unique gifts of the Holy Spirit, one of which is healing. There is evidence that some Christians have a unique gift for praying with people for healing, but by virtue of a Christian’s faith relationship with Jesus, he or she is empowered to minister the healing love of Jesus to another person. Healing ministry since the time of Jesus has been the ministry of bringing an experience of God’s love to people the way Jesus did. This ministry continued after biblical times to the present.


Post Scripture History
A book that describes the history of the Christian healing ministry very in depth is Morton Kelsey’s Healing and Christianity. Recently, Francis MacNutt wrote a book called The Nearly Perfect Crime which also gives a detailed account of how Christian healing has developed through the centuries to the present.

Healing ministry was a normal part of early Christianity. Justin Martyr, who lived around AD 150, tells in several places how Christians healed and cast out evil in the name of Jesus. The main ways Rome was converted to Christianity were healings and exorcisms. Irenaus who lived around the same time, attested to “almost the same range of healings as we have found in the gospels and Acts.” It is recorded that no fee was charged for healing performed by Christians which was quite different from healings at the pagan temples. Christian healing also had a greater purpose, namely, the person’s salvation.

Copies of the prayers used by the bishop to bless the oil of anointing show that the early Christians expected this blessing with oil to bring healing to the whole person, body, mind and spirit. For the first 300 years of the church people prayed for and received the charisms of the Holy Spirit when they were baptized. Everyone prayed for healing. Healing ministry was a normal response to someone who was sick

During the 300’s the Church becomes “official”, the use of the charisms declined, and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was often no longer expected. Healing stories were used to prove the divine origin of Christianity but they got separated from their context and the essence of healing, namely, feeling the intense love of God, was lost.


The influence of Gnostic and Manichean philosophies (300-400) taught that the body was bad and people should not pay much attention to it. This caused Christians to doubt the validity of the healing ministry.
Augustine (380), one of the great leaders of the early church, was not taught to pray for healing. Later in his Retractions he talks of how he experienced healing, and affirmed its validity. Not everyone read his Retractions. (476 Rome fell) In these centuries there seems to have been a lack of knowledge of Scriptures except in monasteries.

John Cassian (432) warns the church about the dangers of using the gift of healing, lest one lose his very soul by too much attention to healing people's bodies.

By 400 physical healing was no longer understood as an invitation to eternal wholeness, but as a distraction from it. Recently Jesus' view has been restored in some churches.

Pope Gregory the Great (600) wrote the Book of Pastoral Rule in which he describes bodily illness as one more way in which God chastised his children, an idea Jesus had clearly dispelled. If a person thinks his or her sickness is “sent by God,” he or she will not pray for healing. These influences undercut the Christian healing ministry.
In the 700's anointing with oil was no longer allowed to be done by lay people. Only Bishops and priests were allowed to anoint, and only for the "healing of the soul." By the 800’s this anointing sacrament was connected to confession and done only just before death. The healing ministry as commissioned by Jesus was almost entirely lost.
By the 1100’s the original anointing for healing became known as a consecration for death and was called Extreme Unction. The healing effects were never denied, just not expected. Healings continued to happen in the lives of the saints who brought the intense love of Jesus to the sick. (i.e. Francis, Anthony, Francis Xavier)
From 1100 – 1825 we see an interesting practice develop called Royal Touch. This was an ancient English and French belief that their kings and queens had the power to heal. Kings held Healing Services several times per year, but no one else was allowed to pray for healing. These went on in England until 1688 and in France until 1825 King Charles X. These developments clearly limited the healing ministry of Jesus.

Further theological teachings undercut the healing ministry. In the 1500’s Calvin taught Cessationism which holds that supernatural healing ended with the death of the last apostle. It also taught that demons had been banished after the resurrection and therefore the church did not need deliverance. These influences were very detrimental to Christian healing since they had a great influence on Baptists, Presbyterians, and most evangelicals. That is why many do not believe in the power of Christian healing prayer.

In 1551 at the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church proclaimed that only someone in danger of death could be anointed with oil. During this century Reformers questioned the anointing of the sick for death as being non-scriptural, but they offered no more effective occasion for healing.
Another interesting fact is that in1566 doctors were required to swear that they would stop seeing a patient on the third day unless he or she had confessed their sins and had a statement signed by their confessor. Again sickness was viewed as a punishment from God for sins, a view contrary to the message of Jesus.
In 1770 David Humes declared that miracles in Jesus’ life never occurred. This is called Demythologizing. It implies that the gospels are not really true. This has had a destructive influence on much of Christian ministry. In the 1950’s Rudulf Bultman continued demythologizing the scriptures.
Around 1850 John Darby taught Dispensationalism which holds that healing and charismatic gifts were meant only for the special dispensation of apostolic times. He also taught that the end of time was coming soon and that true believers will be taken up while the rest are Left Behind.
By 1900 the Christian Healing ministry was all but dead. We might wonder who kept it alive. Francis MacNutt says, “It was ‘the little people’ – the sick, the harassed and those who wandered ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ – who kept it alive.”

There were always individuals who pursued healing and movements that fostered it. Some of those people were Patrick (450), Francis of Assisi (1200), Dominic (1215), Vincent Ferrer – 3000 miracles (1400), Catherine of Siena – many healings and discernment (1360), Martin De Porres – extraordinary healing gift (1600), Francis Xavier (1550), John Bosco (1850) and others.

In 1906 some churches now known as Pentecostal-evangelical-charismatic churches reawaken the power of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with charisms and power to heal. This opened people again to Jesus’ healing power and ministry. Often prayer for healing was met with opposition from the organized churches. Despite this some continued to carry on Jesus’ commission to bring healing to his people. Christianity needed and still needs prophets who proclaim the healing power of Jesus in the midst of opposition. Some of those prophets are:
Agnes Sanford, 1947 - Healing Light

Tommy Tyson, 1952 – Evangelist

Dennis Bennet 1959 - Nine O’clock in the Morning about his Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Kathryn Kuhlman, 1960’s large healing services

Alfred Price - started the Order of St. Luke

Francis MacNutt 1970 – Book called Healing and Christian Healing Ministries


The last 40 years there has been a gradual opening among some churches to healing prayer.

Restore sacrament to the Book of Common Prayer

Revise Anointing of the Sick – 1967
Many have re-discovered Jesus’ commission to bring forgiveness, healing and deliverance to God’s people. Christianity needs to go back to its power source and proclaim Jesus’ healing power in the world today. It is the most effective tool for evangelization, for bringing people to a saving relationship with Jesus.

Churches need to recover the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with the charisms and the energy force to use them.

As Christians we are challenged to continue loving people with the love of Jesus.



Jn 15:9-12


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